Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Reading Writer

            I have always loved books. I have vivid memories of reading under the covers by flashlight. I hid books in my desk at school and read when I was supposed to be finishing workbook pages. I read while walking home from the bus stop, glancing up occasionally to make sure I wasn’t going to walk into a tree or street sign. 

            As an adult, I live surrounded by books. There are books in every room of the house, including the bathrooms and laundry room. There are boxes of books in the cupboard under the stairs (because we ran out of shelf space in any of the other rooms in the house, but I couldn’t bear to give them away). 

            Each book I own contains multiple stories. There is the surface level story. That’s the one the author wrote. That’s the story we all read, more or less. But there’s another story that lies underneath the surface level story. And that’s the story of my own life as I read that book. There are books I own that transport me back to my childhood. When I reread “Little House on the Prairie”, “Eddie’s Green Thumb”, or any of the Beverly Cleary books, I can visualize the Dixie School library, the classrooms with their reading alcoves, and the friends I played with at recess. My third grade self imagined myself as a pioneer girl, heading west in a covered wagon. Laura’s story became my story. 

            Other books became my books when I was a teenager. Judy Blume’s “Forever” was probably my first “romance novel”, paving the way to novelists such as LaVyrle Spencer, Nora Roberts, and Debbie Macomber. Some of their books taught me about what I wanted in love, and others what to watch out for. Reading these books remind me of first loves, unrequited loves, messy break-ups, and enduring partnerships. 

            As an adult, I am an eclectic reader. I wander through the rooms and see evidence everywhere. A short list would include books on: gardening, women’s health, childrearing, teaching, writing, young adult fiction, mysteries, classics, narrative non-fiction, short story collections, and much more. When I fall in love with authors I tend to buy as many of their books as I can find, so I have entire shelves devoted to Maeve Binchy, Rosamunde Pilcher, Torey Hayden, Agatha Christie, and my Oz book collection (started when I was in third grade). 

            And, of course, none of this takes into account the books that are loaded on my Kindle. I won’t even go there right now. 

            The one downside to being a reading writer is that I am forced to choose between my two favorite pastimes. If I am reading, I’m not writing. But if I’m writing, the books beckon to me from their shelves. “Come read me,” they call. “”Just a short break.”

            Sometimes I surrender and find myself curled up in an armchair, listening to the fire, snug inside on a dreary, rainy day, lost in the world of Firefly Lane or Ally Condie’s “Matched”.

          And then I finish, shake my head to bring myself back to my current world, and sit down at my desk to build my characters, tweak my story, and hope that someone out there finds themselves lost in the world I’ve built for them.

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